Six years! It’s been six years since we’ve had a full-length Dresden Files novel. The wait had not quite reached A Song of Ice and Fire extremes, but fans were still feeling a bit despondent. So cue the excitement earlier this year when it was announced that not only was the wizard-drought going to break, but it with not just one book, but two!
…Well, sort of. Sorry, going to put a dampener in this. Because now that I have read Peace Talks – and don’t get me wrong, I was very happy to be reading about one of my favourite wizards again – I have to state that, in my own opinion, that we aren’t getting two books exactly. In reality, we’re getting one largish book split into two parts. Peace Talks is only the first few acts of the story.
Peace Talks takes place a short six weeks (not six years) after Skin Game. Since we last checked in on him, Harry’s life has taken a bit of a turn towards the domestic: he’s camping out in one of Molly’s apartments with Maggie, Bonea and Mouse, trying to be the best Wizard-Dad he can be. Molly’s digs are located in an apartment complex owned by the Svartalves, so in Harry’s opinion, it’s probably a secure enough place to keep the kids.
But what hasn’t counted on is magical political shit going down with his landlords. Politics in the Dresden-verse has been bubbling away angrily for a while. The destruction of the Red Court, all the way back in Changes led to a power vacuum, which was filled in subsequent books by the Fomor. The Fomor have since shown themselves to be right and proper dickheads, who have not won many friends amongst the holders of the Accords. But now they’re walking back slightly and saying want to cut a deal, which has spurred a gathering of a special conclave – the titular Peace Talks. Initially, this conclave was going to put Harry in a bind on at least two fronts: as the Winter Knight, he’s meant to support Mab’s interests; but he’s also a Wizard, and the White Council have their own stakes in these talks as well. But things get even more complicated for Harry after Thomas – of all people – makes a startlingly out of character move which incurs the wrath of the Svartalves. So now, on top of everything else, Harry has to deal with Thomas’ sister Lara, in order to save his brother’s arse.
Harry, predictably, is not at all happy with how he’s being tugged back and forth over all this. Neither, it seems, is anyone else. Carlos Ramirez has recently developed a deep mistrust of Harry; leaving him with one less friend to rely on. Ebenezar seems to be getting really upset with him too over his continued association with Thomas: but that might just be a convenient excuse for him to pick a fight. And just as all this personal and political drama reachers a crescendo?
We run out of pages.
This is what makes Peace Talks such a hard book to review right now. It feels like a set up for Battle Ground, and I don’t think I can really judge how well this one is going to hold up until I read part two. But I feel the need to at least comment on it now just to give people a heads up. Battle Ground is only a few weeks away, and if you don’t like cliffhangers, you might prefer to hold off reading the first half until you can get your hands on the second later in September.
But from what we have so far, Peace Talks is less action-oriented than the previous instalment – as we should have been able to guess from the title – and much more political. It’s also very personal: aside from the conflict with the Svartalves, most of the tension comes from Harry trying to juggle his interpersonal relationships. Harry hasn’t really been in town much since his ‘revival’ and adoption of the Winter Knight mantle. What he has been doing instead is doing Mab’s bidding and spending time on his prison island. You know, the one that gives most normal people the creeps. So perhaps it’s natural that others have gotten a bit suspicious of him, and it’s only with the advent of the Peace Talks that everything seems to be coming to head.
The tension with Eb is a little less clear – obviously, something is eating away at Harry’s grandfather, but he’s a typical stubborn old bloke, so he’s not exactly coming out and stating what. I expect this is being saved for Battle Ground as well, but right now, I’m worried. It’s sometimes easy to forget how damned powerful Eb is: he might look like a midwestern homesteader who drives a pick-up, but he’s wielded a decommissioned Soviet satellite with absolutely lethal effect before. It would be tragic to have Harry lose him from his corner because the two men were too stubborn to consider family therapy.
I do have one other issue with the book, which really sort of extends to the entire series as a whole. For this, I’m going to have to explain what I like to call the ‘Shane Black Filter’ Even if you don’t recognise his name, you will know his work, which includes Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys. All of these titles are showcases for snappy, comedic dialogue, punchy action and fairly multilayered plots for films of their genre. I have a deep-seated affection for many of these works – no lie, I love myself some cheesy 80’s style movie action – but as I’ve gotten older, I have had to adjust slightly in order to enjoy them.
You’ve probably guessed the issue already: it’s a boys-in-locker-room attitude that comes as part of the package. The one that sometimes makes you want to put your head in your hands and just groan. (The opening scene in The Nice Guys is just so emblematic of this: of course it had to be arms, legs and tits akimbo, didn’t it?) I don’t love it, but I can’t reasonably divorce it from everything else. And I really enjoy everything else! So I just decide to ‘filter out’ anything that would otherwise make me roll my eyes, and let myself enjoy the rest of the work.
I see a lot of similarities between the best of Black’s works and the Dresden series. When it comes to the action and the humour, this is a flattering comparison. But it’s also acknowledging that they share a common, slightly grating flaw.
And the reason this is being brought up now is that while Harry’s ‘chivalrous pervert’ attitudes have been tempered slightly in later books compared to the start of the series, they’re absolutely back full bore in Peace Talks. And we can’t wave it away with an ‘Oh no, that’s just Harry’s Winter Knight’s Mantle talking! Down boy, down!’, because it’s not just him this time around either*. There are points in the book where I just had to shake my head a bit and think ‘Jim. Mate. Maaaate, just how fvcking horny were you when you put that one down on paper? Bit wish fulfil-y, yeah?’
Ah well, I understand its part of the package; I chose what I read, the filter is my responsibility.
But for the other Dresden files fans? Peace Talks is a solid and entertaining instalment in the series, and I recommend you pick it up. The decision whether or not to do that now, or wait until the end of the month, however, is entirely up to you. I have left the book unrated at this point – but I suspect I’ll come back with a final judgement in a few weeks.
But the cliffhanger? It’s a doozy.
For Bingo, this is going under ‘Violet’ for the cover. This is based entirely on my judgement – I’m not breaking out the Pantone cards to justify it!